I was raised Lutheran.
Every Sunday, I’d be woken up at four in the morning to go with my mother and the eldest of my two brothers to go and deliver the morning paper, and then I would be dragged to church, where both of us kids would be nodding off during the lengthy sermons. We’d indulge in the after-service reception donuts (despite the fact that the tasteless cake donuts and black coffee catered to the adults in the congregation), and be shooed away to Sunday School, where none of the kids wanted to be, learning about the Holy Trinity and repeating words from a large book abundant in tiny script and void of illustrations.
My father was raised Roman Catholic.
He wears a pendant with Saint Micheal on it around his neck on a rusted, flimsy chain, and has two, ancient rosaries passed down from his mother, both of which were blessed by the Pope, St. John Paul II. He usually worked on Sunday mornings, but on the days when he wasn’t scheduled, he’d join us for service; despite the fact that he’s Catholic, and we attended a Lutheran church.
The first thing I began noticing was that, when the pastor rose his hand to make the sign of the cross and bless the congregation, my father would bow his head and raise his own hand to touch his fingers to his forehead, his sternum, and each of his shoulders. Being a rebellious youngster with a massive amount of respect for the man who raised me, I imitated him. I asked him later why he did that, and he told me that he “didn’t need the pastor to make the cross over him; he was Catholic, and Catholics cross themselves.” I possessed a great desire for independence, so, naturally, I started crossing myself at service.
Over the years, I fell out of religion. I’d never been particularly taken with it since my church was the typical, old, dusty, dismal place filled to the brim with half-dead bible-thumpers and their unwilling, bored grandchildren. My relationship with “God” had always been strained; I struggled to grasp the concept behind an all-powerful puppetmaster looming somewhere unseen above the clouds. I’ve always been a lover of science. The phrase “God is in the gaps” has always resonated within me and held a great deal of truth in my mind. Before people knew the sun was a giant ball of gas that kept the planets in our solar system in check, they thought a man in a golden, flaming chariot rode across the sky every day. Things like that. You know. Mythology.
God was a myth to me.
Still, I’m not necessarily a believer; I consider myself agnostic. Sometimes I’ll be on the brink of being convinced when someone makes the argument that they don’t believe all of this, everything around us, was the result of some freak scientific accident. “Something must have caused it,” they argue. And I agree; we’re the result of a chain-reaction. We’re part of an ongoing chain-reaction. But what started it all? That’s the beauty of science; you’re always looking for answers.
With religion, I feel, you just sort of… accept that the answers lie in some unseen force.
I can’t do that.
Anyway. I’m agnostic. I’m not closed-minded to the existence of a higher power. Paganism has fascinated me for years; I love the idea of living things and inanimate objects in nature having spirits. I had a box in middle school with little bags of herbs and salt and different coloured candles and my three calcite crystals and a stick I found to use as a wand and a little book of a few pagan spells I thought were cool. I’d have little ceremonies in my room at night or take my box out to the woods and sit by the creek and give invocations to Hades and Nyx. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I enjoyed it. I found it fascinating.
It was this accepted idea of giving praise to several figures that connected me to Catholicism.
I inquired as to the specifics of the denomination of Christianity, and my father provided me with heaps of information about Catholic mass, confessionals, and prayers. Mary is the bread and butter of Catholicism. She is really important. I found it fitting; she was important. She gave birth to Jesus. And Joseph helped raise him. Why did we neglect them so much in Lutheranism?
My interests in Catholicism prompted my father to give me one of his mother’s rosaries. It was made in Italy, the chain was thin and the beads were small and black. The crucifix was fragile, the miniature Jesus’ limbs almost as thin as a needle. I dove into learning my prayers; and it wasn’t because I wanted to give praise to Mary, I realised after a while.
I still have my grandmother’s rosary, and I’ve acquired one of my own from Christkindlemarket here in Chicago two years ago. The beads are made of wood, it was made in Jerusalem and one contains dirt from the Holy Land. I’ll go months without touching my rosary, and then say my prayers every night for a week, and then go back to not touching it.
My relationship with my rosary doesn’t symbolise my relationship with any God. Allow me to elaborate:
People refer to meditation as a way to calm the nerves and clear the mind. There is no such thing as quiet in my mind. If I try to meditate and let my thoughts drift away from me, my mind, instead, goes into overdrive. I end up worse off than I was before I tried to relax.
Praying on the rosary requires a sense of focus. There are so many things to remember, and memorisation is something that I’ve excelled at from an early age. I love memorising things. Anything; shop receipts, lengthy chord progressions in solfege, scores upon scores of music… And, apparently, prayers.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee.
Blessed art Thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and in the hour of our death.
The classic Hail Mary; Glory Be; The Apostle’s Creed; The Our Father; Fatima prayer; and the Mysteries. There are different Mysteries to meditate on for every day of the week. Praying the rosary is serious business. There’s a lot that goes into it.
And if I take my time, I can spend forty minutes winding down at the end of the day, just repeating these prayers over and over. It gives me something to focus intently on that I can do by myself in my room that allows me to tune out without disturbing anyone else.
It’s therapeutic. I never thought it would be. But it is.
I identify as a non-practising Catholic. Sort of. My Facebook religion is Catholic, anyway. I’m half-Catholic, half-agnostic. I’m not sure what I am.
Baptised Lutheran, turned agnostic, turned Pagan, confirmed Lutheran, turned agnostic, likes playing with rosaries and praying to the mother of a God I don’t believe in.
I don’t know.
Anyway, that’s all for now. I just prayed on my rosary last night and thought I’d share my lackluster spiritual journey. Hope you enjoyed.
Sam, signing off.